Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Other People's Children

I yelled at somebody else's kid this morning, and I've been feeling bad about it all day.

Here's the situation: Jack car pools with two other kids to school every morning. Mother A typically pulls into our driveway at 7:40; Mother B at 7:50. When it's Mother A's day to drive, I hurry Jack up so he's ready on time. I do this mostly because I don't like to keep people waiting. But I also make sure Jack's ready because on the one occasion last fall when he wasn't, Mother A's child ran up our sidewalk and rang the doorbell repeatedly, banged on the door, and yelled for Jack to hurry up.

This, to put it mildly, annoyed the bejeebers out of me. Not only was it obnoxious behavior on this kid's part, but at 7:40 A.M., Will was still asleep. So this kid rang the doorbell like a madman, and of course Will snarled his way downstairs to make the morning lovely for all involved.

So, today. It's Mother B's turn to drive, and I'm prodding Jack to get ready, but not actually rushing him. I'm in the kitchen unloading the dishwasher when suddenly--Bam! Bam! Bam! RRRRRiiinnng! RRRRRiiinnng! "Come on, Jack! Come on, Jack!" RRRRRiiinnng!

Turns out that Mother A and Mother B switched shifts.

I hurry into the hallway, not exactly yelling (in hopes there's the remotest chance in the world Will has not been awakened), but certainly using a vicious, if not murderous tone of voice, half-shouting in a half-whisper, "Stop it! Stop it! Will's still asleep!"

The child looks at me, dismayed. He is a naturally super-loud kid, exuberant, and a touch out of control, but he's not ill-intentioned. I didn't say anything else to him, just helped Jack with his shoes, quickly combed his hair, and sent him on his way.

Now, when I was telling all this to my hair stylist this morning (hello color, goodbye gray!) and saying I felt guilty, she replied, "He's forgotten all about it; why don't you?"

In part, my reason for dwelling is self-serving: I don't want to be thought of as the mean mom. I try to be sweet and cheerful with other people's kids (which is probably why my own children are always looking at me funny when they have friends over, like, Who is this woman?), and most of their friends are nice kids who can take a hint, so there's no need to yell when situations start to get out of control.

I usually say something when language is used that's not allowed in our house ("stupid," "idiot," "butt," "shut up"), but I say it in a sing-songy voice: "House rule! No saying shut up, sweetie!" And I say something if a bigger kid picks on Will or if somebody's about to break something or spill something on the carpet.

But it's pretty rare for me to lose my temper the way I did this morning, at least not with other people's children. This morning serves to underscore my gut feeling that I really shouldn't be out of bed before 8:30. I'm just not constituted to deal with the world before then.

I think mostly I feel bad because I didn't say anything to this kid or his mother last time he rang the bell like a maniac. I should have e-mailed Mother A and asked her to speak to her lovely child about not ringing the doorbell out of its little doorbell socket. It wouldn't have been a big deal. He would have known not to do it; she would have reminded him this morning not to do it.

But good old conflict avoider that I am, I didn't say a word. I thought I had the problem licked by just making sure Jack was always ready.

Reading over this, it occurs to me that ever since Jack and this kid have been friends, I have tried to be nice to him. He's a nice kid, so it's not hard, except that he's incredibly loud and pretty aggressive in his play (though not mean). He and Jack and Will do a lot of light-sabering out back, and this kid's always yelling, "I JUST DESTROYED YOU!" Believe me, this is not endearing. Nonetheless, I feel a certain sympathy towards him. He's just enough of an oddball for me to be on his side.

So I guess I hate that this morning I joined the ranks of people yelling at him. I think there are a lot of people who yell at him (mostly to be quiet--honestly, this is one of the loudest kids I've ever met). While I have to admit it was satisfying at the moment to finally say to him, "Enough!", in retrospect, I wished I could have figured out how to say "Shut up," in a kind, sing-songy voice that let him know he was still among the beloved, but he could tone it down a few notches even so.

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